Posts Tagged ‘ESPN.com’

Pekovic, Wolves Agree To Deal



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HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — You can finally close the door on the free agent summer of 2013 now that restricted free agent big man Nikola Pekovic has agreed to a five-year, $60 million deal with the Minnesota Timberwolves (as first reported by Marc Stein of ESPN.com and confirmed by Wolves boss Flip Saunders).

Pekovic was the last big name on the marquee without a deal this summer, a group headlined by now Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard and Los Angeles Clippers point guard Chris Paul.

By locking up Pekovic long-term the Timberwolves are now set with a core of All-Star power forward Kevin Love, Pekovic in the middle and point guard Ricky Rubio as the headliner in the backcourt. That’s an excellent place for Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman to start with his playoff plan for the 2013-14 season, provided all of his major players stay healthy. Love missed all but 18 games last season with injuries and Rubio played in 57 games as he returned from knee surgery of his own.

Pekovic emerged as a low-post force for the Timberwolves last season, averaging 16.3 ppg and 8.8 rpg while starting in all 62 games he played in last season. A skilled, 6-foot-11, 290-pounder, Pekovic is the ideal counterpart to pair with Love, whose range extends beyond the 3-point line. They’ll form a dynamic inside-out big man duo for a Timberwolves team that has legitimate playoff aspirations next season.

Signing Pekovic was work Saunders needed to get done as well. After a busy summer that saw them add quality veterans like Corey Brewer, Chase Budinger, Kevin Martin and Ronny Turiaf, keeping Pekovic from unrestricted free agency next summer was an absolute must. Even more important, a deal with Pekovic gives the Timberwolves some much-needed security at the center position going forward.

Report: Wall, Wizards Close On Extension



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LAS VEGAS — John Wall is still in the formative stage of his NBA career but the Washington Wizards believe the best is certainly yet to come for their star point guard. The next step, of course, is working on a long-term extension for Wall, a process that has progressed rapidly.

The two sides are reportedly close to a deal for five years and $80 million. Wall, who is in town this week for USA Basketball’s Men’s National Team mini-camp,  and the Wizards could have the deal locked down by Aug. 1, according to ESPN.com’s Marc Stein.

The sides have until Oct. 31 to come to an agreement on an extension or Wall would be a restricted free agent during a loaded summer of 2014. But that’s a scenario the Wizards are clearly trying to avoid by offering Wall, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 Draft, a monster deal.

Wall, 22, dazzled the second half last season, returning from a knee injury to average 18.5 points, 7.6 assists and 4.0 rebounds in the final 49 games of the 2012-13 season. Wall is the linchpin to the Wizards’ franchise revival and the this sort of contract is proof that the Wizards are convinced that he is indeed the franchise player they thought he was when they drafted him.

Fearless Cavs Offer Bynum 2-Year Deal


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HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — From Dion Waiters to Anthony Bennett and now Andrew Bynum, Cleveland Cavaliers general manager Chris Grant is fearless.

In a copycat league, he’s decided to go his own way and usually in dramatic fashion.

We’ve come to expect the unexpected from Grant in the Draft, both Waiters in 2012 and Bennett last month were surprising picks at No. 4 and No. 1 overall, respectively.

Grant doubling down on Bynum in free agency though, with a reported two-year deal that could be worth some $24 million with incentives, pushes the envelope to the brink.

Yes, there is a team option on the second season and plenty of incentives. So Grant has covered himself in ways the Philadelphia 76ers could not when they acquired Bynum in that blockbuster Dwight Howard trade last summer from the Los Angeles Lakers. The fact that they are even entertaining the risk of adding Bynum to a roster that was ravaged by injuries last season (most notably to Kyrie Irving and Anderson Varejao) tells you how desperate the franchise is to rise from the ashes of The Decision and move back into playoff territory.

Grant obviously isn’t alone in his risky business this summer. Bynum has face-to-face meetings scheduled with the Atlanta Hawks and Dallas Mavericks this week, following Monday’s visit to Cleveland. I don’t care if he works out for these teams or not, entertaining the idea of adding him to your team (I don’t care what the price) is an extremely dicey gamble.

Bynum has experienced more highs and lows than your average 25-year-old should-be-dominant low-post monster. He’s got two championship rings, but also has only played more than 65 games just once in his eight seasons in the league. The talent is undeniable. Players his size and with his skill-set are rare.

I’m just not sure that being on the NBA’s endangered species list warrants the sort of pursuit we are seeing. The Mavericks and Hawks are desperate for big man help as well, and they could both use a healthy Bynum in the worst way.

How much are they willing to risk to take that chance?

A colleague and good friend suggested that the risk isn’t as great as some (me) are making it out to be.

“The second year is an option, right?” he wrote. “Makes it less of a gamble if they can drop him next summer and still have space for LeBron [James].”

Yeah, that sounds great until you remember that the Cavaliers cannot continue to play the waiting game year after painful year. After all, they were supposed to win a title or two before LeBron won anything in Miami, a prediction that came crashing down in the worst way.

I’ve heard all of the arguments to the contrary …

What if Bynum’s knees hold up?

What if he reverts back to the form he showed in his final season with the Lakers, when he averaged career bests in points (18.7), rebounds (11.9) and minutes (35.2) to go along with 1.9 blocks?

What if at 25 he’s still got five or six great years left in him, in those knees?

What if? is a loaded phrase lottery teams use to justify off-the-track decisions that usually come back to bite them in the end.

That’s a phrase the Cavaliers should avoid at all costs if they are intent on becoming the playoff team that gambler of a general manager of theirs believes they could be this season.



No Surprise, Paul Sticking With Clippers




HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — In what has to be the one and only lock of the NBA’s crazy season (also known as free agency), Chris Paul is reportedly forgoing the formal recruiting process and sticking with the Los Angeles Clippers.

This is a move, first reported ESPN’s Chris Brousssard, that was all but cemented the moment the Clippers hired Doc Rivers away from the Boston Celtics and moved him into position as their head coach and senior vice president of basketball operations earlier this week.

One of the top two players on the free agent market this summer, along with Dwight Howard of the Los Angeles Lakers, Paul won’t bother flirting with the other teams that planned to pursue him and will instead end the process before it gets started.

Kudos to Paul for handling his business in this manner. He could have turned his decision-making process into a complete circus and made the rounds, just because he could. But why go through all of that when you know exactly what you want to do? Rivers and Paul together gives the Clippers an ideal nucleus for whatever championship ambitions they have for the foreseeable future.

And his quick commitment this summer sends a message to whoever else the Clippers pursue now and in the future, that Paul is a firm believer in the plan and serious about winning at the highest level with the organization.

What the Clippers do with Pau’s backup, however, remains to be seen. With the Toronto Raptors and others reportedly in hot pursuit of Eric Bledsoe, Rivers and the rest of the Clippers’ brain trust will have to decide if moving him now in a package that allows them to strengthen the roster with perhaps an experienced shooting guard is more beneficial than Bledsoe spending another year backing Paul up before he becomes the object of free agent affection in the summer of 2014.

The most important business, though, appears to be complete with Paul’s camp letting it be known that he intends to stick with the Clippers long-term.

Celtics-Nets Talking Trade … Celtics Already In Full-Blown Rebuilding Mode?





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — That rebuilding process Doc Rivers was trying to avoid in Boston is apparently already in effect for the Celtics, who are reportedly exploring their trade options for Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce with their Atlantic Division rivals in Brooklyn.

The complex deal, first reported by Yahoo! Sports and later confirmed by both ESPN.com and The New York Times, would not be finalized until July 10, at the earliest, which is after the end of the NBA’s moratorium on signing new contracts during the free agent season. In order to get a deal done the Celtics need to wait until after July 1, when the final year and $15.3 million of Pierce’s contract becomes guaranteed and then wait until the moratorium is ends to complete the proposed deal.

In it’s current form, the deal would involve the Celtics trading Garnett, Pierce (and possibly Jason Terry) to the Nets for Gerald Wallace, Kris Humprhies and his expiring contract and multiple first-round Draft picks.

Of course, the entire deal would be contingent on Garnett waiving his no-trade clause and agreeing to join Pierce on a Brooklyn team coached by Jason Kidd and already boasting stars Deron Williams, Brook Lopez and Joe Johnson.

This is a twisted end to Garnett’s six-year run in Boston. Pierce has spent his entire career with the Celtics. But Celtics boss Danny Ainge made it clear Tuesday, when he discussed Rivers and his departure for the Los Angeles Clippers, that no concrete decisions had been made about the futures of the remaining members of Boston’s famed “Big 3” that helped them to the 2008 NBA title.

Ray Allen was the first to leave, bolting for Miami and another title in free agency last summer. Rivers opted for a chance to take the Clippers to the same plateau he reached with the Celtics in the final six of his nine seasons with the team. Ainge is clearly trying to make the next move by engaging in these talks, and what sources indicate are many more, in regards to the remaining members of his core.

Not even Rajon Rondo, the Celtics’ injured All-Star point guard, is off-limits, according to a league executive who informed NBA.com that Rondo is waiting to see who Ainge replaces Rivers with and what happens this summer before deciding if he wants to be a part of the rebuild that the other members of the core are clearly trying to avoid.

Ainge, one of the league’s true, front-office risk takers is willing to push the envelope to see what he can salvage for the aging stars who helped lead the Celtics back to prominence. Rivers netted them a first-round Draft pick in 2015. Moving Pierce and Garnett will potentially a couple more and Ainge would have a stockpile of assets to work with in two seasons in the Draft and free agency.

For the Nets the future would be now if this deal were to get done. For the Celtics, the necessary assets to rebuild for the future would be the key.

How Long Does The Heat Big 3 Last?





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — They haven’t even had the parade yet and all anybody wants to know is if the Miami Heat’s Big 3 is ready for an encore or the end of a fruitful three-year run together?

LeBron James isn’t going anywhere, Heat boss Pat Riley cannot let that happen. And Dwyane Wade is already the most decorated and beloved player in franchise history. He should be and probably will be allowed to leave on his own terms, whenever he gets to that point in his career.

That leaves Chris Bosh, the oft-maligned third member of the crew, the one who went scoreless in that deciding Game 7 of The Finals, the one who always seems to be at the center of trade rumors when the topic of what the next act is for this Heat outfit. If Bosh is the one member of the group that is expendable, the time to strike and make a move could be upon us this summer.

Free agency is around the corner, July 1, and if the ongoing escapades between the Los Angeles Clippers and Boston Celtics have shown us anything, it’s that there are teams out there ready to risk franchise and limb to either remain or make themselves relevant in the championship picture.

Only Riley knows how long the Heat’s Big 3 lasts. It’s going to be his call, no matter what anyone else says about it. And in the immediate aftermath of the Heat clinching their second straight title, he didn’t seem inclined to touch a hair on the head of his masterpiece:

“I just want this thing to keep going,” the 68-year-old Riley told ESPN.com after the Heat defeated the San Antonio Spurs in Game 7 of an epic Finals. “I’m at an age now where I’m ready to just fly off somewhere. But I’m not going to because the Good Lord has blessed me with a team that’s allowed me to grab onto its coattails for as long as they want to be together.”

But it’s obvious that the gap between the Heat and the rest of the pack is closing. We saw that in the playoffs, when Joakim Noah, Roy Hibbert and then Tim Duncan took turns exposing the Heat’s tender underbelly inside.

A “stretch 4 or 5” like Bosh is a luxury for a team that is head and shoulders above the competition, a team with a healthy James and Wade to lean on night after night. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra has often referred to Bosh as his team’s most important player, though I’m still not sure how much of that is honesty and how much of it is posturing to keep Bosh’s fragile confidence intact. But this three-year grind the Heat have been on has taken its toll on Wade (knees), and even LeBron looked mortal dealing with the likes of Paul George and Kawhi Leonard in the Eastern Conference finals and The Finals, respectively.

There’s a reason Bosh, an eight-time All-Star and self-professed future Hall of Famer, was reduced to pedestrian numbers this postseason. As the quality of the competition increased, Bosh’s performances didn’t increase along with it. Sure, he mustered a couple inspiring performances along the way and played a huge role at the end of the Heat’s pivotal Game 6 overtime comeback win.

But Bosh’s critics, and there are plenty of them, would point to the fact that Spurs coach Gregg Popovich had Duncan on the bench when Bosh grabbed that critical offensive rebound and found Ray Allen for the game-tying 3-pointer at the end of regulation.

In theory, that is work that a younger and perhaps much cheaper big man (names like DeMarcus Cousins and Kevin Love have been floated for months now) can do.

The company line, however, tends to favor at least one more year of this holy hoops trinity. James, Wade and Bosh all have opt-outs in their contracts that come up after the 2013-14 season, giving any one of the three the option of bolting from this championship experiment for the fruits of free agency. And James and Bosh are young enough and healthy enough to command the full max-salary available from any team capable of paying that price.

Wade, who has spent his entire career with the Heat, believes in the future of the Big 3, as my main man Mike Wallace of ESPN.com explains:

“Our first year together, we tried to make it work,” Wade said. “But we weren’t the team that we needed to be to gut out a Game 6, to win a game like that. Everybody can’t get to the Finals and win six [championships] in a row — and not lose one like Michael Jordan. But we are excited about the future of this organization. We are still a good team, and we’re going to do everything we can to make sure we stay competitive.”

But in some ways, they remain a work in progress. While Riley said before the playoffs that he envisioned the Heat being like the Spurs, who kept Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili together for a decade, Wade said he, Bosh, and James haven’t spoken as a group yet about how they’ll approach their contract options after next season.

“This organization doesn’t rest on trying to make sure we can put ourselves in a position to have a trophy like this,” Wade said as he sat next to the Larry O’Brien Trophy. “So we’ll be back next year again, looking to do it again. We’re living in this moment right here, and it’s a sweet moment. It’ll be sweet to be able to have a long run like the Spurs, but we’ll get to that when we get to that.”

Three years, three straight trips to The Finals and two straight titles … is it just the beginning or is this the beginning of the end?


The Celtics-Clippers Saga Continues …





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Admit it, you’re going to miss DeAndre Jordan in a Los Angeles Clippers uniform. You’re going to miss the dunks and the off-court comic pairing with Clippers All-Star Blake Griffin.

But if we are reading this Boston Celtics-Los Angeles Clippers-Doc Rivers trade situation right, Jordan is headed to Boston in one part of a complex potential trade scenario that also will include Rivers departing Boston for the Clippers and the chance to chase championships with a few familiar faces (Kevin Garnett and perhaps Paul Pierce) as well as a few new ones (Griffin and potentially Chris Paul).

Monday’s hot name, Eric Bledsoe, the player both sides refused to budge on, is apparently out of the deal now.

It’s complicated, I know. But aren’t these blockbuster scenarios always a bit more complicated than the average trade?

The latest from around the basketball world on this saga …

Celtics ready to deal for Jordan and two first-round Draft picks …

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports: After pushing for the Clippers to take back long-term contracts, the Celtics relented and have shown willingness to complete the deal for DeAndre Jordan and two first-round draft picks, sources said. The Clippers are willing to give the Celtics Jordan and one draft pick, but were resisting a second future pick, sources said.

The two teams are planning to talk again on Tuesday morning, and the fragile negotiations could climax over the draft pick compensation, sources said.

If the Clippers become the championship contenders that they expected this trade will make them, the additional draft pick would likely be near the end of the first round.

 The financial investment in this deal for Los Angeles is unprecedented for the franchise, and it could be giving it 11th-hour pause. The Clippers must pay a $3.5 million trade kicker on Jordan’s contract and finalize an agreement with Rivers on a five-year deal worth approximately $35 million, league sources said.

Serious talks but still no deal …

Marc Stein and Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.com: Sources close to the process told ESPN.com that the Celtics and Clippers held “substantive discussions” Monday on the proposed multilayered transactions that would send Rivers and Celtics star Kevin Garnett to Los Angeles. But the teams, sources say, remain unable to agree on a final trade framework to go through with the two deals, even after Boston relented on its insistence that the Clippers include prized young guard Eric Bledsoe as part of the package for Rivers and Garnett.

Another element of the talks, sources said, is the negotiations between Rivers and the Clippers on a coaching contract. Rivers has three years left on his original five-year, $35 million deal with the Celtics and will be looking to stay in the same salary range if Boston ultimately receives what it deems sufficient compensation to let the 51-year-old out of that deal.

So the Clippers, in what NBA coaching sources are terming a “separate process,” have moved ahead with their coaching search just in case, for one reason or another, they’ll be unable to pry Rivers out of Boston. They’ve arranged sitdowns this week for Byron Scott (Tuesday) and Brian Shaw (Wednesday) with Clippers owner Donald Sterling. Lionel Hollins, the other finalist for the Clippers’ job before the pursuit of Rivers got serious, already met with Sterling.

Numerous sources connected to talks continued to express optimism Monday that the Celtics and Clippers will eventually agree to terms this week, with some interpreting the Clippers’ plans to resume talks with the likes of Shaw and Scott as their latest thinly veiled message to the Celtics that they aren’t afraid to walk away from the table.

“It’s a dance right now,” said one source close to the process. “I think it’ll eventually happen. They’re just staring at each other.”

Is Ainge satisfied with this haul?

Sam Amick of USA Today: The only question that matters at the moment is whether Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge eventually will decide that acquiring fifth-year center DeAndre Jordan and two future first-round picks is fair compensation for losing his coach and his 37-year-old big man.

If he does, according to two people with knowledge of the situation, this deal will likely get done. If he doesn’t, and instead insists that third-year Clippers point guard Eric Bledsoe must also be in the trade, then Rivers and Garnett would stay put and the Clippers would simply hire one of the coaching candidates who have interviewed for their vacant job (former Memphis Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins and Indiana Pacers assistant Brian Shaw lead that group).

While Celtics small forward Paul Pierce is not part of the trade talks, he could be bought out of the final year of his contract this July ($5 million of his $15.3 million) and join Rivers and Garnett with the Clippers as a free agent if this deal went down. The people spoke to USA TODAY Sports on the condition of anonymity because of the private nature of the talks.

While Rivers would not technically be part of the trade, the Celtics would allow the Clippers to sign him as part of the agreement. Rivers has a non-compete clause in his contract that would be nullified, and he would forgo the three years and $21 million remaining on his Celtics contract.The Clippers are prepared to pay him just less than $7 million annually, but only if they can bring him in without mortgaging their future by losing Bledsoe.

Yet if Rivers were willing consider giving back some of his earnings as a way to ease Ainge’s pain, that could be a way to nudge these negotiations along. The Celtics could move forward with a new coach whose salary would be, in essence, paid for by the old coach.

Rivers still grappling with his decision?

Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe: If the Celtics plan to part with Rivers, they want a young piece, draft picks and salary cap relief. Realizing that signing [Jason] Terry and [Courtney] Lee to multiyear deals at the mid-level exception (5-plus million) was a mistake, the Celtics would prefer the Clippers accept those deals to facilitate clearance to negotiate a contract with Rivers.

Meanwhile, a source close to Rivers told the Globe that Rivers is still grappling with the decision, especially as the trade gets more complicated and negotiations more contentious. The talk of the Clippers acquiring Paul Pierce in the trade are remote, especially since the Celtics would have to honor his deal and send him to the Clippers with a $15 million salary.

And don’t expect the Celtics to waive Pierce just to see him sign with the Clippers during free agency. If they decide to trade Pierce, and NBA sources said the team is open to the possibility, they want a return for his services unless waiving him will allow him enough salary cap space to sign a solid free agent.

The consensus around the league is that a decision on this has to be made this week and Rivers is looking worse by the day because of his indecisiveness.

Key decision makers, Ainge and Sacks, stuck in neutral … 

Broderick Turner of The Los Angeles Times: The main characters are Boston Coach Doc Rivers and All-Star forward Kevin Garnett, trying to get to the Clippers as a duo. The men calling the shots — Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge and Clippers vice president of basketball operations Gary Sacks — can’t seem to reach agreement on a mutually satisfactory deal.

So both organizations were stuck in neutral by Monday evening after player names were tossed back and forth, the talks at a standstill but not completely over, according to NBA executives who did not want to be identified by name because they were not authorized to speak publicly on the situation.

The two sides intend to keep the talks alive Tuesday. But the Clippers also plan to have coaching candidates Byron Scott and Brian Shaw meet with owner Donald Sterling this week in case the team can’t make a deal to get Rivers, executives said.

Shaw, associate head coach of the Indiana Pacers, on Tuesday is scheduled to meet for the second time with the Denver Nuggets about their head-coach vacancy. Then Shaw is to meet with Sterling on Wednesday. Shaw interviewed face to face with the Clippers last week, but this will be his first sit-down with Sterling, executives said.

Scott, former coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers, New Orleans Hornets and New Jersey Nets, is scheduled to meet with Sterling on Tuesday afternoon, the executives said. Scott also met with the Clippers last Tuesday but didn’t talk with Sterling.



Doc Rivers And The Clippers Courting?





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The idea of Doc Rivers coaching an All-Star point guard and big man during the 2013-14 NBA season is a given, right?

But will it be Rajon Rondo and Kevin Garnett … or Chris Paul and Blake Griffin?

Bewildered and confused Boston Celtics fans have to be wondering what the future holds with reports that there could be mutual interest between the Celtics’ coach and the Clippers, per The Los Angeles Times and ESPN.com.

It’s a speculation party that is sure to leave Celtics fans with indigestion as they await the fate of their proud (but clearly rebuilding) team. Rivers left the door ajar at season’s end, saying that he wasn’t sure what was in store with Rondo (knee injury), Garnett (age) and Paul Pierce (age, final year of contract) all in the crosshairs during a huge summer.

The idea of Rivers forgoing the final three years and $21 million of his deal with the Celtics was sparked by a nugget from ESPN The Magazine’s Chris Broussard that indicated Rivers is contemplating a change.

While it wouldn’t be a complete shocker, it would confirm rumblings that began in May, when the Celtics were eliminated from the playoffs by the New York Knicks. Celtics boss Danny Ainge quieted that chatter early on, but the ensuing coaching carousel that has left the Clippers without a replacement for coach Vinny Del Negro has circled around to this possibility that Rivers could be a potential option, as ESPN.com‘s Marc Stein and Ramona Shelburne detail here:

Sources told ESPN.com on Thursday that Rivers is highly intrigued by the idea of coaching the Clippers in the event that he and the Celtics part company after nine seasons together and one championship in 2008. Sources say the Clippers, meanwhile, would immediately vault Rivers to the top of their list if he became available as they continue a coaching search that, to this point, has focused on Brian Shaw, Byron Scott and Lionel Hollins.

The Los Angeles Times, citing several NBA executives, reported Wednesday that if Rivers decides he doesn’t want to coach in Boston anymore, the Clippers would be interested in him and he would become their No. 1 choice.

ESPN.com has also learned the Celtics and Clippers — in an offshoot of February’s Kevin Garnett-to-L.A. trade talks — discussed expanded trade scenarios that could have sent both Garnett and close friend Paul Pierce to the Clippers before the league’s Feb. 21 trade deadline.

Sources say those talks, before breaking down, were centered on Boston getting back both prized Clippers guard Eric Bledsoe and young center DeAndre Jordan and did not involve Clippers star forward Blake Griffin.

It is not yet known whether the Clippers intend to revive those trade discussions and pursue either Garnett or Pierce — or both — in conjunction with this month’s NBA draft. But one source familiar with the Clippers’ thinking told ESPN.com the club plans to be “very aggressive” and “shake every tree” in terms of upgrading the roster this offseason. Acquiring Garnett or Pierce — or both — would make Rivers even more of a natural coaching target for the Clippers.

If that’s not enough speculation for you, this all comes at a time when the Clippers are in the midst of interviewing Shaw, Scott, Hollins and Nate McMillan.

The Clippers also have to consider that whoever they select needs to be someone who will help them recruit Paul to stick around this summer in free agency. With rumors that Paul and Dwight Howard, this summer’s other marquee free agent prize, have been in contact about teaming up together in the future, the frenzy will kick into overdrive.

Rivers certainly has a history of coaching superstars in those sorts of situations and the respect that comes along with being a championship coach.

It should be noted that Rivers has been courted several times before during his decade-long tenure in Boston and in the end decided to stick with the Celtics. Orlando, where the Rivers family resides, tried to lure him back to Central Florida with an offer to run the Magic’s entire basketball operation. Rivers considered his options, but in the end decided that loyalty to his players and the Celtics outweighed whatever opportunities might have awaited him in Orlando.

It’s unclear right now whether or not he’ll have to make a similar decision about what to do with the Clippers, but that won’t stop the speculation from spreading.

CP3 Steamed At Clippers, As He Should Be!





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — If this is the Los Angeles Clippers’ way of wooing Chris Paul, they might want to come up with a new strategy.

Hanging your superstar out to dry by indicating he’s the reason coach Vinny Del Negro was not retained and that whatever other decisions are made rest on his shoulders is not a sound strategy. That’s especially true with Paul just a month away from the full-court press of free agency from suitors around the league.

Paul is reportedly upset about being thrown into the middle of this Del Negro mess, by Clippers owner Donald Sterling of all people, and he should be upset. CP3 has been mindful throughout this entire process to stay clear of any controversy regarding the Clippers’ front-office plans. Both he and All-Star forward Blake Griffin have been thrust into this drama, as the main culprits in the decision-making process that they are believed to have influenced, despite no evidence to support this.

Chris Broussard of ESPN The Magazine reports, via sources, that Paul is upset that he’s being portrayed as some sort of coach killer:

“He’s angry right now and his anger is directed toward the Clippers organization,” the source said. “Chris is a man of principle and if he feels like you’ve gone against his principles, it will affect how he feels about you. He’s very agitated that his name has been put out there as the reason for Vinny’s firing. He had nothing to do with it.”

This fire started last week, when Del Negro was fired and T.J. Simers of The Los Angeles Times put Sterling on the hot seat about the decision. Sterling didn’t name names, but he made it clear that the wishes of the players were a part of the process:

“The coach is a wonderful man, and I’m sad about the whole thing,” Sterling said.

“Was this done,” I asked, “just to hang on to Chris Paul?”

“I always want to be honest and not say anything that is not true,” Sterling said. “So I’d rather not say anything.

“But you know, the coach did a really good job. I think he did. And I liked working with him. There are just factors that make life very complicated and very challenging.”

So the Clippers are trying to hang on to Paul.

But don’t they already have him locked up? The team has done everything to make him comfortable, even hire his favorite PR guy from New Orleans.

Do the Clippers really think he would accept almost $28 million less to sign elsewhere?

“Here you have two inexperienced people running your basketball operation in [GM] Gary Sacks and [son-in-law] Eric Miller,” I told Sterling. “And Andy Roeser doesn’t have the greatest track record when it comes to basketball personnel decisions.

“So I wonder, is this decision being made because the players are now calling the shots? Am I off base?”

“No, you’re not off base,” Sterling said. “This is a players’ league, and, unfortunately, if you want to win you have to make the players happy. Don’t you think that’s true?”

I answered: “No. Money makes players happy.”

As stated, the Clippers can offer Paul more money than any other suitor that will chase him in free agency. Anyone assuming they’ll be able to buy their way out of this mess with Paul doesn’t really know the man.

Del Negro isn’t the first coach (and he won’t be the last) thrown in the trash bin because he didn’t get a ringing endorsement from his star players. Paul didn’t force the Clippers’ hand in this matter and didn’t have to. Trying to make Paul the scapegoat for the fact that Del Negro’s ego is bruised because his stars didn’t lobby on his behalf is childish at best.

It’s a cheap shot for a franchise that can’t afford to squander the opportunity it has with this star-studded core capable of leading the organization to new places — namely on the right side of the divide in a city practically painted in Lakers’ purple and gold.

The fact the franchise is throwing Paul under the bus long before free agency begins only reinforces the belief that the Clippers often serve as their own worst enemy in the court of public opinion. There have been rumors that Del Negro was going to be fired from the moment he was hired by the Clippers. To lay it all on the doorstep of Paul and Griffin after the fact is disingenuous to say the least.

Paul has every right to be upset about the way he’s being portrayed. He was going to weigh all of his free-agent options anyway, including the rumored joining of forces with Dwight Howard (and Al Horford) in Atlanta, where there is cap space galore and the chance to for the Hawks what he did for the Clippers.

If Del Negro is such a wonderful man and coach, Sterling should have stood by his guy and then allowed Paul to make a decision on his own future without the sort of foolishness that will be involved in the process now.

What’s Wrong With The Clippers?





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — That rant Vinny Del Negro unleashed on his team after Saturday night’s blowout loss to the Houston Rockets (sans James Harden) was not an elaborate pre-April Fool’s Day ruse. It was real.

“They played harder than we did,” Del Negro said. “We were terrible. Our effort was terrible, our attitude was terrible, our urgency was terrible. Very disappointed. I didn’t see the fight in us tonight, and we need guys to step up.”

“We’re fighting for a spot, and we come out with that second-half — pretty much the whole game — effort. It was poor.” Del Negro said. “I know it’s the fourth game in five nights, but that’s no excuse. We’ve got plenty of depth. No excuses. I don’t believe in that.”

The vitriol … the disappointment … all of it was real.

With seemingly everything to play for — a top-three seed in the Western Conference playoffs, home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs, simple professional pride — the Clippers cannot find the energy to finish the season the way they started (with a bang).

The Clippers have fallen off the mark in the second half of the season, squandering a league-best 32-9 start by stumbling their way to a .500 finish (17-17) with seven games remaining in the season. Chris Paul‘s MVP turn during All-Star weekend might very well serve as the lone highlight for the Clippers during the season’s stretch run if they can’t shake out of their funk.

They managed a 7-7 record in March and didn’t exactly get off to a rousing start to this final month of the regular season with Monday night’s home loss to the Indiana Pacers, a game that saw the Clippers trail by as many as 24 points before closing the gap late in a 109-106 loss.

Deciphering exactly what’s wrong with the Clippers from a schematic standpoint is basically a waste of time. They have certain deficiencies that cannot be cured this season unless both Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan magically locate reliable post moves overnight. That’s not meant as a slight to either of the talented young big men, it’s just a fact.

The Clippers are not capable of playing inside-out for long enough stretches to make other high-level teams uncomfortable. Kicking off a crucial, four-game home stand with a deflating loss to the Pacers is no way to inspire confidence. And when Paul, Jamal Crawford and the rest of the Clippers’ perimeter stars are taking turns struggling as well, it confirms all of the fears we’ve been expressing about this team since their second-half struggles began.

This is code red time for the Clippers. They’ve lost four of their last five games and the finger-pointing (direct and otherwise) has already begun. The effort and energy from the players seems to be lacking, suggesting an underlying issue between the players and the coach that is undefeated in terms of the final results (the coach always has to go).

Del Negro has taken a rather aggressive approach, tinkering with his rotations and even benching starters in an effort to jumpstart his team.

“It’s up to them,” Del Negro said of his players to ESPN.com‘s J.A. Adande after the loss to the Pacers. “All I can do is take them in and out of the games.”

For any of this to be said on a team with some of the best locker room leadership in the league (Paul, Caron Butler, Grant Hill and Chauncey Billups) is a bit startling.

Just as startling is Del Negro’s pointed criticism at his biggest stars, particularly his benching of Paul and Griffin recently, moves that are sure to erode the coach-player dynamic on a team that has always had issues in that regard under Del Negro. This madness is going on with a team that needs just one more win to clinch the franchise’s first 50-win season in history.

This puts the entire operation on alert for the postseason. If the Clippers slide in and then slide out just as quickly, then it’s anyone’s guess as to where the Clippers go from there in the offseason.

Start the playoffs on the road and suffer the fate then that you did during your recent tour through the Southwest Division, a 1-3 plank walk, and whatever is wrong with the Clippers will be someone else’s problem.

Del Negro won’t have to worry about it anymore!